VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy might not have won two major championships and had the season of his life in 2014 if not for winning last year’s BMW PGA Championship, the World No. 1 conceded on the eve of the European Tour’s 5 million euro ($5.55 million) flagship tournament.
Despite winning the Australian Open at the end of 2013, McIlroy arrived at Wentworth last May with questions about his form, his attitude and his change of equipment. The prospect of the Northern Irishman silencing his critics did not look good. He had missed the cut on his previous two attempts around Wentworth’s West Course.
Yet McIlroy defeated friend Shane Lowry of Ireland by a shot, setting up a summer steamroller with three consecutive victories: Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship.
“This is what kick-started everything, really,” McIlroy said. “This win, it gave me a lot of confidence to go on into the summer and do what I did. It was a real catalyst. I felt like I was playing well before that, but I wasn’t able to turn good finishes into wins. I was finishing in the top 10 or top 5, but I wasn’t really contending too much in tournaments.
“It did a lot for my confidence. Who knows? If I hadn’t had this tournament, things might have been a little bit different.”
Much is expected of McIlroy this week, but then much is expected of him every week. No wonder comparisons have been made with Tiger Woods in his prime, when Woods was the player to beat in every event he played. McIlroy was quick to downplay that talk.
“Golf is a very fickle game, and it can humble you quite quickly,” he said. “So I definitely don’t think I’m unbeatable. I feel like my name now carries a certain weight on the leaderboard. I don’t know if you call that intimidation, but I feel players see my name on the leaderboard now, it might mean a little bit more than it used to.”
McIlroy is the 11-4 favorite with British bookmaker William Hill to win this week. Justin Rose is next at 10-1. McIlroy will enter every major championship for the rest of season as favorite, too. He won’t be happy if he doesn’t win at least one major championship this year.
“I’ve got off to a good start: three wins already this season,” he said, referring to the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, WGC-Cadillac Match Play and last week’s Wells Fargo Championship. “I would be disappointed if I wasn’t to win one of the next three majors. I think that’s really what determines a good or a great season for me these days. So there’s three majors left this season, and I’d love to add to my tally.”
It could be ominous for the rest of world golf if McIlroy were to successfully defend this week.